15 tips on how to beat the heat in sweltering Rome in July and August

A tourist walks under the sun in front of the Colosseum. Temperatures are in the high 90s this week. AFP photo.

How hot is it in Rome this week? It’s so hot …

… the oracle in Julius Caesar’s hand on the statue near the Forum has been mysteriously replaced with a bottle of Gatorade.

… rats have left their piles of garbage on the streets and checked in at the Marriott.

… the Saudi Arabian Embassy just moved in a beer keg.

OK, I shouldn’t complain. My old United States is melting like gelato. Record temperatures are killing people and electrical grids. Baseball fans in Chicago’s Wrigley Field gave a standing ovation to a slight breeze. The state of Texas has melted into Mexico like dollops of pancake batter on a skillet.

Here in Rome, it’s summer as usual. Temperatures this week range from 93-97 with humidity at a relatively mild 35-50 percent. Screw relativity. Rome is still broiling. July is THE worst month to visit this city, as I wrote four years ago. It’s hot. It’s crowded. Public transportation is cut back to the age of chariots. The biggest impression with which you’ll leave Rome is how in the hell did the Roman Empire survive 900 years with these summers?

August isn’t quite so bad. Half of Rome leaves on vacation, leaving it less crowded but also with many establishments closed. August weather is about the same. If any of you are foolish enough to visit Rome in these two months, you can still enjoy it without drowning in your own pool of sweat.

Do not, however, jump into a fountain. Eight tourists were recently fined 450 euros each for jumping into the Trevi Fountain. Forget the “La Dolce Vita” reenactment. It’s no longer interesting, and it’s no longer free.

This is my seventh summer in Rome. I’ve learned a few things along the way, such as hibernating on my balcony and just eat fruit. I know you visitors can’t do that (You wouldn’t quite fit) so here are 15 tips, A Guide to Roasting Rome (with links to past blogs with more details).

Me at one of the 2,500 nasonis around Rome. Photo by Marina Pascucci

1. Tap water. It’s not illegal to buy bottled water in Rome, but it should be. For 2,000 years Rome has been known for its fantastic tap water. Some of its ancient aqueducts are still in use today, bringing fresh, cold water from the distant mountains to your hotel room. Along with Scandinavia, it’s the best tap water I’ve ever tasted. Instead of spending money on bottled water, go to any bar and order “acqua rubinetto con ghiaccio (tap water with ice).” It’s free and they’ll often bring you a whole pitcher of water with ice on the side. Or you can kneel next to one of the 2,500 cisterns or “nasoni,” the drinking fountains that look like a large nose. Stick your finger over the narrow nose-like opening, and out shoots a stream of fresh, cold water through a hole on top. And it’s cold even in July.


2. The Beach. Few people know that Rome is on the sea. Its Ostia neighborhood is hard on the Tyrrhenian Sea and is one of many beaches accessible from the city. Ostia’s beach isn’t beautiful. It won’t make you forget Greece. However, it has perfect sand with nary a rock, its water is relatively clean and it’s the perfect temperature. A local train from the Roma Ostia Lido station in the Ostiense neighborhood goes straight to Ostia where you have a short walk to the beach. There are also cheap trains and buses to more beautiful beaches farther south at Sabaudia, Sperlonga and Gaeta.

Me at the Sheraton Roma.

3. Pools. Tired of touring? If you’ve seen one more marble statue you’ll turn into one? Find a pool. Rome’s hotels aren’t like Las Vegas’ but most are accessible to the public. A couple times a summer I go to the Sheraton Roma in l’EUR about a 10-minute walk from the EUR Fermi Metro stop. It has a beautiful pool 9 feet deep with padded lounge chairs and a pool bar where they’ll serve you free ice water all day. It’s 20 euros entry and well worth it. But bring snacks. The pool-side menu is expensive. Public pools include Acquaniene in the Parioli neighborhood (15 euros) and Piscina delle Rose (16) also in l’EUR. Here’s a detailed list: https://lolamamma.wordpress.com/2013/07/06/best-swimming-pools-in-rome/.

The world’s most popular food is even more popular now. Photo by Marina Pascucci

4. Fruit gelato. Everyone eats gelato in Rome, regardless of month. It’s mankind’s favorite food, right? But in summer, go heavy on the fruit flavors. They’re natural. They’re fresh. They’re cool. True Roman gelaterias only use fruit in season. Thus, this month order fragola (strawberry), melone (cantaloupe), pesca (peach), pera (pear), amarena (black cherry), fico (fig). No don’t order fig. Fig sucks. Click here for my five favorite gelaterias in Rome.
5. Museums and churches. It doesn’t matter if your idea of art is a tattoo. It doesn’t matter if you’re an atheist or a devil worshipper. The one thing you’ll get out of going to Rome’s museums and churches is the cool air. Use the steaming afternoons for your culture ventures. Museums must be air-conditioned to preserve the art and churches somehow are naturally cool, remarkable considering how huge they are. Hey, maybe there is a God.
6. Wear shorts. When I lived here from 2001-03, few men wore shorts. Now it’s chic. However, they must be the right shorts. This is Rome, Italy, not Rome, Georgia. Don’t wear cutoffs. Don’t wear gym shorts. Don’t wear a swimsuit. Wear knee-length shorts with stylish shoes, preferably light shoes such as loafers. You can take advantage of the annual July sale to buy what you need when you arrive.
7. Tour in the morning. Romans get up real early. When in Rome … set your alarm. Or sleep with the drapes open and let the sun wake you up at just before 6 a.m. That’s when I wake. I go across the street to my corner bar, order a cappuccino and cornetto and read the paper in pleasant 75 degrees while the sun comes up. This is the time to hit Rome’s main sights. Go to Piazza Navona before 7 a.m. and you’ll have it nearly all to yourself. I’m a film extra and shot a scene in CBS’ “Blood & Treasure” before dawn at Trevi Fountain. The gurgling torrent of water is even more beautiful when seen without the fountain ringed with cell-snapping tourists.

Lake Nemi. Photo by Marina Pascucci

8. Castelli Romani. This is a series of 14 small towns tucked into the Alban Hills high above Rome southeast of town. Each one has its own attraction: Ariccia for porchetta, the sizzling, suckling pig so luscious inside fresh bread; Genzano for fresh bread sold all over Rome; Nemi for strawberries; Castel Gandolfo for the pope’s castle retreat above a gorgeous lake. Temperatures drop significantly in these towns and are easy to reach via the COTRAL bus line outside the Anagnina Metro stop or direct train from Termini station.
9. Outdoor clubs at night. I don’t like music but I hear Rome has some good outdoor bars on summer nights. Check out this website for listings and bands: https://www.wantedinrome.com/whatson/top-10-outdoor-venues-in-rome-this-summer.html

Mithraeum in Basilicata di San Clemente. Tertullian.org photo

10. Rome underground. This is courtesy of Elyssa Bernard of Romewise: You don’t have to bake at the Forum to see ancient ruins. Rome also has terrific sites underground. Check out the Mithraeum under the Basilicata of San Clemente near the Colosseum. Mithraism was a cult based on Roman mythology in which the god Mithras killed a wild bull and its blood caused plants to grow. Mithraic temples, almost always underground, hosted initiation rites for the Mithraeum followers. Then walk about 500 meters to the Roman houses at Celio where, legend has it, two Roman soldiers lived in the subterranean dwelling until they were beheaded. The houses have 20 highly decorated rooms. Then walk into nearby Parco del Colle Oppio and visit Domus Aurea which Nero built after the fire of 64 AD. Reservations (39-06-3996-7700, http://www.coopculture.it) are highly recommended.
11. Pausa. This is the Italian siesta. From about 1-4:30 p.m., many businesses close. Although Italy’s economic recession has lessened this tradition, many Romans still use this period to take care of personal business, rest, have lunch or visit with friends. When the afternoon heat reaches its peak, go to your air-conditioned room and take a nap. Wake up as the sun starts to set.
11. Lunch inside. One reason I love Rome is I can eat outside about nine months a year. However, in July limit it to breakfast and dinner. Don’t even think about lunch. Even in the shade it’s miserable. The misters many restaurants in Las Vegas and Phoenix and other steaming spots haven’t made their way to Rome. Rome’s restaurants are all air-conditioned and lovely inside. Save the outdoor ambience for the evening.

Marina and me at Terrazza Barromini.

12. Rooftop bars. Speaking of evenings, after the sun sets at about 8:30, head to one of Rome’s many rooftop bars for a cocktail or glass of wine. This is the Rome you’ve read and dreamed about. My two favorites: One, Terazza Barromini atop Palazzo Pamphilj behind the Chiesa di Sant’Agnese in Agone on Piazza Navona. You sit on overstuffed couches while an elegant wait staff whisk drinks to you as you stare out at the rooftops of the churches in Centro Storico. Reservations (39-06-6821-5459) are required. Two, Atlante Star Hotel in Prati near the Vatican has a beautiful terrace with spectacular views of St. Peter’s and Castel Sant’Angelo, the castle Hadrian built and later used as a popes retreat.
13. Ice Club. This is kind of schlocky and can be found in other cities. But when I walk by it on the charming narrow road of Via della Madonna dei Monti in July, I am very tempted to enter. It’s only 15 euros. Inside is 40 tons of ice and 23 degree temperatures. You’re handed a blanket and a menu of different-flavored vodkas. It’s in the Monti neighborhood near the Colosseum which seems to trap summer heat like a nursery for African violets. I have never visited the Ice Club but some sweltering day I will. Reservations recommended: 39-06-978-45581 or info@iceclubroma.it.

Villa Doria Pamphilj

14. Parks. Believe it or not, Rome has more park acreage than Paris. Our parks just don’t have the cache. Still, they are great places to plop down in the shade by a lake and have a picnic or a bottle of wine. I live in Monteverde just below Villa Doria Pamphilj, a 455-square-acre park covered in Mediterranean pine trees with jogging paths, a huge lake and a 17th century palace once owned by Prince Camillo Pamphilj, nephew of Pope Innocent X. Or go to Villa Borghese and picnic before touring its museum or Villa Ada in the ‘hood of world embassies.
15. Italian craft beer. Italy is the fastest growing beer nation in the world. Twelve years ago, Italy had only 70 craft breweries. Today there are more than 1,000. They are strong, smooth and varied. You can get IPAs, lagers and Belgian-style ales. My favorite birrerias are Bir & Fud, Via Benedetta 23 in Trastevere, a narrow bar with 30 beers on tap and a small patio, and Open Baladin, a beautiful, back-lit bar near Campo de’ Fiori at Via Degli Specchi 6, featuring 40 beers on tap and many more in a bottle. Here’s a link to a story I did on Rome’s beer boom for BeerAdvocate magazine in 2014. Is drinking beer healthy for beating dehydration? No but screw it. It tastes good.

Rome’s historic water shortage plugging the noses of some of city’s famed cisterns

Me at one of the "nasoni" in steaming Rome. The city has 2,500 of them but the water shortage has closed 400. Photo by Marina Pascucci

Me at one of the “nasoni” in steaming Rome. The city has 2,500 of them but the water shortage has closed 400. Photo by Marina Pascucci

I have a weird confession to make. I never drank water until I moved to Rome.

I’m serious. Water was too boring. It had no flavor. Why drink water when you can drink Gatorade? For 45 years, all through my years playing sports as a kid and traveling the globe as an adult, I lived on soft drinks, citrus fruit and artificial thirst quenchers with more synthetics than polyester pants. Back home in the West, I always had a gallon jug of Gatorade in my refrigerator. I drank milk as a thirst quencher. Water? Why bother?

In 2001 I moved here to Rome on a budget. Gatorade is hard to find here. If I drank milk to quench my thirst in the steaming Rome summer I’d be broke by soccer season. I considered living on nothing but wine. Nope. You can’t earn street cred in Rome when you pass out in a piazza at 3 in the afternoon.

The nasone in Piazza Testaccio.

The nasone in Piazza Testaccio.

Then I discovered something. All around Rome were these fascinating, cast-iron fountains with curved nozzles that poured out a continual stream of cold water. Each nozzle had a little hole on top. You closed the spout with your finger and the water shot out of the hole like a normal drinking fountain.

And the water was fantastic. Clean and cold, very cold, even in the middle of July.

I never went thirsty in Rome and I saved a fortune. Everywhere I went I could see the constant gurgle of these cisterns, known here as nasoni, from the Italian word “naso” for “nose,” as the cisterns look like great big schnozzes.

Then I read somewhere that Rome’s water had been rated No. 1 among urban centers in the world. I filled a water bottle with tap water, put it in the refrigerator and waited four hours. What came out was the best water of my life. I’d stand at the refrigerator and chug half a liter bottle of the glorious, ice-cold fluid, much to the disgust of my then girlfriend.

I finally became hooked on what has kept the rest of mankind alive since history’s first drop of sweat. When I returned to Rome for my second stint 3 ½ years ago, I immediately bought two liter glass bottles, one to chill while I drank the other. I drink two liters a day, three in the summer. The nasoni satiates me when out of the house.

Now as Rome melts into its cobblestones and my water intake skyrockets, everyone in Rome is facing a crisis: water shortage. More than 400 of our beloved nasoni have been turned off. The city has about 2,500 nasoni, meaning 16 percent of these cute, ingenious, thirst-quenching little piles or iron are now dry. We barely avoided water rationing which would’ve turned off water for eight hours a day all over the city. The Vatican turned off 100 of its fountains, including the famous Bernini fountain in the middle of St. Peter’s Square.

A dry nasone near the Jewish Ghetto.

A dry nasone near the Jewish Ghetto.

Excuse all 1.5 million of us Rome residents if we’re sweating this summer for more reasons than one.

Hey, Republicans. You think climate change is a hoax? Italy had its second hottest spring and its driest in 60 years. It hasn’t rained in Rome in more than two months. From last year rainfall has dropped 80-85 percent. Rivers in the industrial Po Valley around Turin are parched. Italy, the world’s leading exporter of tomato products, has seen a 90-percent drop in production. Olive oil and (GASP!) wine production has dropped 15-30 percent. Agriculture officials say the damage to crops around Italy has totalled 2 billion euros.

Hospital admissions in Italy are up 15-20 percent for heat-related illnesses and at least three people have died from the heat. Florence’s Uffizi Museum closed Friday when the air-conditioner broke down due to the lack of water in the dried-up River Arno.

Vittorio Marletto, an agricultural meteorologist for the Regional Environment and Energy Agency of the Emilia-Romagna region in Central Italy, was quoted as saying, “For years we have seen progressively diminished precipitation and rising temperatures due to the changing climate. The lack of snowpack in the Apennine mountains to recharge the aqueducts is particularly dramatic.”

Scientists say that the death toll in Europe from heat will go from 3,000 a year to 152,000 by the end of the century.

Not that it’s hot now, but I walked by the famous statue of Julius Caesar near the Forum and in his outstretched hand toward the masses he’s now holding a Red Bull. It’s so hot, the pope indeed walked on water. He walked across the Trevi Fountain — in shorts and flipflops. Actually, I made that up. You can’t get in — or on — the water in Rome fountains anymore. Two tourists were recently fined 900 euros for washing their feet in a fountain; an Italian was arrested for swimming in Trevi — nude.

By the numbers, Rome is nothing like St. Louis, Orlando or Houston. Last week it topped out at 104 although there were forecasts of 106. The humidity didn’t go over 45 percent. But it feels hotter than the numbers. Romans hate air-conditioning. I don’t remember ever being in a home with AC. My girlfriend will turn on a portable electric fan when I start panting more than her cat. My penthouse apartment has three sets of windows on opposite sides. Opening them on my top floor brings in a nice breeze off the Tiber River below. But some apartments feel more appropriate for African violets or prisons in Central American jungles. It is steaming.

This is one time of the year here when water is more important than wine. Limiting its use had the city on the edge of a sweaty revolt.

The embattled mayor, 39-year-old Virginia Raggi, just slightly more popular than Nero, curbed a probable palace coup last week when she killed the idea of water rationing. Yet that still doesn’t solve a problem that could linger for years. The source of this situation isn’t climate change. It’s Rome’s general bureaucratic incompetence. (I write that line so often I should put it on a save/get key.)

Of the 7,000 kilometers of water pipes in the metro area, 2,000 are under repair. The city was wasting 44 percent of its water or 100 liters of water per second. To combat it, they started draining beautiful nearby Lago Bracciano, dropping the water level an astonishing five feet.

Keep in mind that of all of Rome’s great accomplishments — the most powerful civilization in history, more art than any city in the world, pasta amatriciana on a cool fall evening — one of its most underrated is water. The Ancient Romans built aqueducts to carry in water from the hills of Central Italy. About 800 kilometers of aqueducts were built, all with a downhill gradient for the water to flow into the city. They were reconstructed during the 17th and 18th century. Today about half of them are still in use after 2,000 years and they still produce spectacular drinking water. Iceland is said to have the best public water in the world. I spent two weeks in Iceland in May. Its water is no better. Rome’s should be fabulous. Acea, Rome’s water agency, tests 250,000 samplings a year.

Buying bottled water in Rome isn’t illegal. But it should be. Yet when word of the water rationing arose, Romans bought bottled water as if they were boarding an ark.

Filling water bottles in Piazza Venezia.

Filling water bottles in Piazza Venezia.

The nasoni are simply the arrival points of water from the aqueducts. Trevi Fountain, basically, is one big cistern. The nasoni were installed in 1874 to help public merchants water their fruits and vegetables, and they became mass produced in the 1920s onward. The water is never wasted. What doesn’t go in your mouth — or all over your face if you’re not careful — carries into reservoirs that water the parks and gardens or is recycled into fountains. Because of the constant flow, the water never stagnates and gets warm. It’s always cold. Tourists and locals alike stand in line to fill their empty water bottles.
The original design from 1874 is still in use on Via delle Tre Cannelle.

The original design from 1874 is still in use on Via delle Tre Cannelle.

The nasoni are as much a part of Rome’s landscape as churches. Shelley, the great 19th century British poet, wrote, “The fountains are enough to justify a trip to Rome.” Some are famous. One on Via delle Tre Cannelle off fashionable Via Nazionale is taken from the original 1874 design and has three nozzles, not one. A nasone in gritty Pigneto, just east of the Termini train station, is painted in A.S. Roma’s red and yellow colors. In 2005, the city considered getting rid of the nasoni and a massive public outcry quickly killed the discussion.

Rome needs so much: Cleaner streets. Better public transportation. More efficient government. Now it needs something more, something the screams of 1.5 million thirsty souls can’t make happen.